One of us lives on the east coast. One of us lives on the west.

One of us lives in a rural community. One of us lives in a city.

Both of us wander. Both of us witness. Both of us write.

This is a record of what we find.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Language of Birds

On the corner of Columbus and Broadway, in San Francisco’s North Beach (my neighborhood) a flock of illuminated books hang suspended. Words spill out on the plaza below.

The Language of Birds—a permanent site-specific sculpture created by artists Brian Goggin with Dorka Keehn—was commissioned in 2008 by the San Francisco Arts Commission for a new plaza linking Chinatown and North Beach. The frosted white translucent polycarbonate ‘books’ give the impression of birds startled up in a flurry—or a dream of thoughts rising above articulation, while the words imbedded in the cement appear to have been left behind, like tea leaves, like bits of divination. Standing in the plaza, I always have the sense that a personal message is hidden in the scattered words, if only I could find the proper order.

Half a block down, on the roof of City Lights bookstore—the heart and soul of literary San Francisco—solar panels power the installation and offset the energy used to light up the books at night.

I read that the artists, Groggin and Keehan, decided the pattern of the fallen text through a project at San Francisco’s Modern Art Museum, by taking words from chosen phrases and randomly casting them from the third floor gallery down to the main lobby, relying on chance to give them order, and on interpretation for the meaning. It’s like a word game we writers sometimes play to summon the muse—I have a carved wooden box, filled with words I like, scribbled on bits of paper (cut up watercolor paintings from my girl’s kindergarten days.) From time to time, when I’m stuck, or bored, or looking for a way to jar language loose in my sub-conscious, I’ll close my eyes and take out a small handful, spread them on the table or drop them on the floor and start making sentences from the words I’ve been given. Here are seven words just chosen in a blind pick:


You could write a scene using the images conjured up by the words, or try to put them all in one sentence: She leaned into the slant of ripe moonlight and stirred her dreams with a levitating plait of longing—the chirp of floorboards made her moan. Yes, I cheated—the m-dash really links two sentences.

We all have words scattered throughout our landscapes, some less random than others. A guerrilla poet has been leaving charged poems in marker on strips of cut tape on North Beach sidewalks for the past few years.

For more thoughts on writing on the sidewalk and the writing life, check out the cool blog our dear friend and classmate, Sarah Tomp, writes with Suzanne Santillan—Writing On the Sidewalk:


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Guest Post: Erin E. Moulton and her Debut Novel: Flutter

We are thrilled that Erin Moulton, our good friend and classmate, has come on over to share her beautiful debut novel Flutter's rich landscape. 

Synopsis of Flutter: Big things are about the happen at Maple's house. Mama's going to have a baby, which means now there will be four Rittle sisters instead of just three. But when baby Lily is born too early and can't come home from the hospital, Maple knows it's up to her to save her sister. So she and Dawn, armed with a map and some leftover dinner, head off down a river and up a mountain to find the Wise Woman who can grant miracles. Now it's not only Lily's survival that they have to worry about, but also their own. The dangers that Maple and Dawn encounter on their journey make them realize a thing or two about miracles-and about each other.

KTE: Welcome Erin!  What landscape inspired, or is featured in, your book? Can you describe it?

EM: There are a few aspects of my home landscape that I wove into the pages of Flutter:

The Mountain: The story begins with the line, It all starts at home. On the mountain. And indeed it does. My parents' house is tucked three miles up a rutted dirt road, just like Maple’s house. And it sits against lots of woods. There is no river in the front yard which my siblings and I could have escaped down, but there was a pond. I spent hours at that pond, walking around, catching frogs and salamanders and watching the bugs skitter across the surface. The house, on the mountain was tucked up against lots of trees, so I spent a lot of my childhood exploring the woods out back. I remember there were areas of density, so much so that you could barely see 10 feet in front of you, and then you’d round the next tree trunk and there’d be a stand of pines with yards in between each of them. Also, I remember there being a particular stand of pines behind our house. I could always find my way because I would go up the hill until I hit the logging road, walk up the logging road until I reached the downed tree, take a left over the river and then up the bank and I was pretty much there. Logging roads, pine needles, rustling leaves, these are all things that I remember as a child growing up in the woods and they are also things that come into play as Maple and Dawn adventure into fictional Peninsula State Park.

The Devil’s Washbowl: There’s also a deadly rapid called The Devil’s Washbowl. Maple and Dawn have two separate run-ins with this diabolical rapid. Where I grew up, there was a road called The Devil’s Washbowl, and I remember always thinking about that name and putting my own images to it. It sounded larger than life and menacing, and that’s just how it turns out in the book.

The Town: In Flutter, Maple talks a little bit about the town and how there is a big Halloween pumpkin carving contest at the Bee’s Nest, which is the general store in Mooreland, VT. There is no real Mooreland, VT, but there is a Moretown, VT, and when I was a kid, the Moretown general store was called the Bee’s Nest. I remember going to the Bee’s Nest to pick out penny candy after church every Sunday. The knowledge of forthcoming sweets kept us quiet and pious during the sermon. I don’t remember the general store ever holding pumpkin carving contests, but I do remember always walking through Moretown village on Halloween night and seeing loads and loads of pumpkins. I even have a vague recollection of many pumpkins on the lawn of the Moretown Elementary School. Essentially, I guess I combined those two memories. There is also a gazebo and an old mill in that same town center. They show up in life and in the book in a very similar way.

KTE: Why is the landscape important to you?

EM: When I first began the process of writing the novel, I was away from home, and was trying to grapple with the feelings of being away from home and yearning for it, and missing family. I think part of that longing spilled over into the pages of Flutter. For me, writing and longing for home was a way to bring me back for a while. A way to bring me back to the trees, the crunch of leaves under foot, the rustle in the branches above. Back to the mountain.

Erin E. Moulton graduated with an MFA in Writing for Children from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is the author of Flutter: The Story of Four Sisters and One Incredible Journey, published May 12th! Erin is co-founder of the Kinship Writers Association and when she is not writing she works at Springboard After School with lots of silly kids and a bearded dragon named Puff. Erin lives in Southern New Hampshire with her husband and puppy where she writes, reads, drinks tea and dreams. You can visit her online at or on facebook as Erin E. Moulton(Author)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Landscape that is my Mother

This post is in honor of To Mama with Love, part of a collaborative online art project that honors moms across the globe and raises funds to invest in remarkable women who create hope in our world. Thanks to Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, who introduced it to me, and to Audrey Vernick who inspired me to take part.

My mother is a force of nature. Seriously. She wakes up at 5AM (or maybe earlier…I am not awake at that ungodly hour so I can’t tell you for sure when she rises), she takes a walk with her two dogs, has breakfast #1, turns on her laptop and reads as much of the Huffington Post and the New York Times as she can, goes out to the barn where she feeds horses and cleans 20 stalls, and then comes back in and has breakfast #2.

All before 10AM. She does more in a day than I dream of doing in a week.

My mother lives on a farm in Vermont. She is breathtakingly beautiful, like the views of the mountains from her kitchen windows. She is firmly rooted, like the flowers in the gardens around the house. And she is wise, like the trees along the ridge road.

And because this is also a blog about writing, I want to tell you about my mother in that context too.

My mother knows the power of stories. The ones that are hers to tell, like the time she was an angel in the Christmas pageant, all decked out in cardboard cut-out wings, and she hauled off and punched the angel next to her because the she sang the Christmas Carol wrong. Or the time she fell off of a fence and broke her wrist only no one believed her so she went around with a broken wrist for days before her mother finally took her to the doctor. Or the story of her birth, which goes that her father was stationed in the Philippines while her mother was pregnant, and he woke up in the middle of the night at the exact time she was born and he knew she had come into the world, knew she was a girl and knew her exact weight and length.

That last story is completely my mom in a nutshell. Powerful strong like the wind, strong enough to travel all the way across an ocean...

My mother is also a writer. She’s a good writer. She says she’s not, and then she distracts you by pointing to the fact that her mother was the one who wrote lengthy letters to us grandchildren, the one who wrote funny poems from the point of view of the Thanksgiving turkey, the one who, upon her death, we all found out had written secret stories that she never showed anyone. (That my grandfather promptly burned, not thinking they were worth anything, but that is another post all together.)

And my mother is right about my grandmother. But I am also right about her.

Case in point: My mother writes an email to a group of us about American Idol every week. An email that would rival a PhD dissertation in its detail and analysis about every singer and every song. An email that is perhaps the most hysterical part of my week. My mom is smart and funny and, truly, the Idol producers should have hired her after Simon left. She is even more direct and sarcastic than he is.

Another case in point: She wrote the most beautiful tribute to Obama, to the evolution of our country...and to hope... the day after the last Presidential elections. I still have it and I still read it when I need an infusion of faith.

My mother also sews the most amazing quilts, cooks the best fish you have ever tasted, has the largest and most eclectic song list that has ever been created on iTunes, and has literally breathed life into a stillborn puppy. My mother is creativity personified. She is Mother Earth in blue jeans and a sweatshirt. She is the first snowstorm in November and the first crocuses in April. (And you do not want to be in her path when she twists on down like a tornado—usually because of some stupid thing some politician has said or done or made a mistake about.)

The landscape that is my mother is one that I am forever grateful to be able to live within.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Secret and not-so Secret Gardens

The city is full of secret gardens—lush little gems hidden behind tall fences, backyard oases nestled in the center of city blocks like Edens in the cones of urban housing volcanos. 

But there are also many public gardens. Community vegetable gardens continue popping up all over and many of our city parks are lovingly tended. Plus, we have little visual havens planted and maintained by individuals as seeming gestures of good will and hopeful generosity.

Some years ago, while walking my dog, I stumbled upon a little secret garden in the middle of Alamo Square Park. At first, I couldn’t believe my eyes at the charmingly whimsical vision: hundreds of cast off shoes—baby shoes, clogs, beaded Victorian spats, loafers, pointy spiked-heelers, cross trainers, velvet dress pumps and more—perched on stumps and logs and nestled into the ground, sprouting crocus, narcissus, angel’s trumpet, primrose and calendula, cacti,  jade plants, and “hens-and-chicks”.  I later learned this shoe garden was started by David Clifton, a gardener for SF Park and Rec. He began by collecting discarded shoes while cleaning up the park, but soon had neighbors contributing to the collection to make it a real community project. Even after returning to this little garden over and over, I still find myself completely enchanted.

Then just last week, on my way up to Coit Tower, I came upon the stump of a recently cut down tree and saw that some kind neighbor had planted it with a lovely variety of succlulents, transforming the sad stump into a small garden of delight for everyone passing by to enjoy.

As is so beautifully described and shown in Kathi Appelt's inspiring MISS LADY BIRD'S WILDFLOWERS, creating, planting and sharing something of beauty for the delight of others makes this old world a place worth cherishing.